Ministers think they have successfully hid the facts about the deaths of claimants. Have they?

What we're fighting for: It seems certain that Jacqueline Harris (pictured) died because her benefits were stripped from her after a one-question medical assessment. The DWP wants to hide the number of other people who are dying in similar circumstances.

What we’re fighting for: It seems certain that Jacqueline Harris (pictured) died because her benefits were stripped from her after a one-question medical assessment. The DWP wants to hide the number of other people who are dying in similar circumstances.

The Morning Star has published an interview with statistics expert Nick Dilworth about the DWP’s release of death statistics for incapacity benefits claimants. Some of the information needs correcting but this is an excellent article and should be publicised. The Tories want this sidelined – let’s keep it in the public eye.

“The media were misled over the right figures with the DWP issuing a wholly inadequate explanation. Most settled on 2,600 dead, which is a great disappointment to the real victims. They would be entitled to assume the number could be far higher given the scope for many simply not appearing because the DWP failed to provide a comprehensive and all-inclusive explanation.”

It’s important to remember those who’ve had a family member die and who wanted to hear the wider picture. Yet as Dilworth says, “bloggers were also reaching different findings, some making out there was no story while others implied it was a national outrage. Obfuscating the proof was what IDS wanted to achieve, with distraction being a key part of his strategy.”

Dilworth, unlike many commentators, refused to be drawn into this game, instead taking a step back to consider in depth what the figures revealed. He came to six key conclusions:

– The DWP data only related to claimants whose incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance ended because they died. A total of 81,140 people on either benefit died between December 2011 and February 2014.

It should be explained that this means the statistics do not include people who died after their benefit had been taken away from them – even though the Freedom of Information request to which this was a response (written by me) specifically asked for the total number of deaths of people who had had a claim during this period. In some cases, people died several weeks, or months, afterwards but the DWP decision may still be to blame for the death.

– The data lacked clarity over whether the correct total for those who died with a “fit for work” finding on their claim was 2,650 or 4,010. As a result, mainstream media issued press articles and headlines which deflected the serious issue raised regarding the fact people had died while deemed “fit for work.”

Again, this figure only relates to those whose claim ended because they died. Mr Dilworth goes on to mention the deaths of many other people who died outside the extremely narrow time period used by the DWP in its figures.

– Readers of the statistics were thrown a red herring by the DWP’s poorly worded explanation. As a result it was wrongly reported that people had died within two and six weeks of being found “fit for work.” The reference to between two and six weeks related only to aligning the date of death with the closure of the deceased person’s claim.

– Figures of between 2,650 and 4,010 only relate to people who had appealed. In 1,360 “completed appeal cases” this can only mean people who had successfully contested a “fit for work” finding, and then subsequently died thereafter. In the case of those who’d not had their appeal heard, the inevitable conclusion can only be they were still within the appeal system at the time of their death.

This is inaccurate. The figures related to people who had contested a “fit for work” finding, but we don’t know whether they were successful or not. If they died, and then their claim ended, then either outcome is possible; there’s nothing to stop a person who appealed unsuccessfully from dying due to the stress of the process (which would tend to indicate that the outcome of their appeal was wrong, also).

– The figures omitted those who’d been found “fit for work” and then either came off benefits or were claiming an entirely different benefit. This left a considerable question mark over the usefulness of the statistics for those who were owed real answers. These were not provided by the generalised issue or age-standardised mortality figures — which excluded large numbers of claimants who made more than one claim for the same benefit (repeat claims were specifically excluded).

It can reasonably be assumed that a large number of those found fit for work would have gone on to claim jobseekers allowance (JSA). What is known from separate Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures is that between December 2011 and February 2014, 7,645,130 people came off JSA — of which only 3,241,885 found work. An incredible 2,402,755 are recorded as “failed to sign on.” It leaves considerable scope for anyone dying not to be included in the figures at all because the jobcentre won’t have any reason as to why their claim ended.

Just so. And there’s no reason to expect everybody who was kicked off ESA to have claimed JSA because it a condition of claiming JSA that you have to be, in fact, fit for work – and many of those whose ESA had been removed would have failed the test.

Dilworth says: “One such person who won’t be included in the DWP’s ‘fit for work’ death statistics is Michael O’Sullivan (aged 60.) He died after having to claim JSA after being refused employment support allowance. Tragically Mr O’Sullivan took his own life after being found ‘fit for work’ twice by the DWP’s heartless back-to-work regime.

“A coroner has confirmed the suicide verdict is to be directly linked to the work capability assessment process. It is astonishing so many of the media articles associated with deaths and these tests cite suicide, stress or some other strong indicator that the deceased was seriously affected by the decision on their claim.

“Invariably these show all too often people are attempting to navigate the DWP’s bureaucratic appeal process and so it is tragic that in some of these cases the unfairness of the ‘fit for work’ decision is only corrected at a posthumous appeal, by which time it’s sadly too late.”

He continues: “Other death cases which can in some way be related to fit for work findings include those of Jacqueline Harris, 53; Ms DE, in her late 50s, who was the subject of a very detailed study by the Scottish Mental Health Commission; David Barr, 28; Colin Traynor, 29; Graham Shawcross, 63; Shaun Pilkington, 58; Edward Jacques, 47; Tim Salter, 53; and David O’Mar, 58.

“These 10 deaths are striking in that they almost all relate to people who have not only been found fit for work but have also had to battle with the DWP to reverse a decision which they thought was unfair.

“IDS, when speaking with the Press Association, declared his overriding objective in these reforms was all about ‘saving lives.’ Clearly that’s not happening: it beggars belief that a duff set of statistics is enough to answer the deep probing questions demanded of these perilous reforms. He owes everyone a decent explanation, particularly those who have lost someone dear, and still have no answer as to what it was that went wrong.”

A suicide in a family or a death triggered by intense pressure and stress can permanently scar loved ones. These are the people who deserve to hear the truth, not simply data within such tight parameters as to be virtually meaningless.

“It’s very much IDS’s modus operandi for the DWP,” Dilworth says, “to respond to a potential outrage by throwing people off the scent, ensuring the media divert attention from the blatant, systemic failure in IDS’s department. However, now we know how much data has been withheld, we must demand the full figures are released.”

Source: Morning Star :: DWP’s claimant death cover-up

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13 thoughts on “Ministers think they have successfully hid the facts about the deaths of claimants. Have they?

  1. Jeffery Davies

    Hmm that never happen with this devil who try every dirty trick not to give em out yet the figures of all died are very muchhigher whether we get em is another thing but sadly when they do get out it be to late for those who already give their most

  2. Robyn Appleton

    I feel more and more ashamed everyday.

    I am currently collecting names of people who have been killed by cuts in order to animate a tribute commemorating those lost by name. Please if anyone would like to add a loved one to the tribute contact me (I’m not hard to find)

    So far I only have 140 names, I don’t want to miss out a soul, names not numbers xx

  3. mohandeer

    Other factors not evidenced in this article or any DWP figures are the number of ESA claimants who were judged fit to work, then sanctioned at the JSA who had their HB stopped – illegally, became homeless and subsequently died. Any coroners enquiry would show them as just another homeless death. The number of homeless people has more than doubled in the last four years, many because of the Job Centre sanction culture and the subsequent illegal withholding of HB and some of them will have been found fit for work by the DWP. Anyone who is sanctioned or homeless is removed from the jobless figures and if they are homeless, they are not shown as unemployed and are unable to apply for ESA or JSA, without which they cannot get housing. Round and round we go.
    Example: M was in care homes from aged 5, total nutter, self harming and had epileptic fits, did a stint in prison for dealing grass, got out & given share in house with 4 other men in 2 bedroomed house who stole his food and money. Denied PIPS, missed his Job Centre appointment sanctioned for 6 weeks, HB withheld, homeless, JC told him no JSA until he had address, no luck with housing, got in with homeless crowd on drugs, died, still a nutter and epileptic. End of. He was in his mid to late twenties and one of many who end up on drugs and subsequently die. Just another “statistic”.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Maybe they will. After all, you agree that it’s a disgrace, but what are you doing to promote public awareness of it?

      1. shaun

        You’re right Mike, we not only need to stand against the present push towards, national impoverishment, inhumanity, and support for the greed driven by the most powerful, but to combat its false assumptions, mis-directions and falsehoods too.
        I’m going to rejoin the Labour Party and then reconsider what’s best to do.

      2. Jim Round

        I travel up and down Britain through work and I speak to many people of all backgrounds.
        what disappoints me is that a growing number of people exist in their own bubble.
        If any cuts, or detriment of local services has not yet affected them, they are not interested.
        i have asked what they know of benefit deaths and it is very little, if anything.
        When explained they are suspicious of the claims that the DWP is to blame, after all, they, or their relatives have no problems???
        I have said it before, and to use a crude phrase, it’s the plight of the wrinkled ballsack syndrome, if you haven’t heard of or experienced it then it doesn’t interest you.
        As I mentioned earlier, protest of 80-100,000 aren’t enough, it’s just a small percentage of the population.
        Those in work are fearful of job losses, such is the stripping of workers rights and a long queue of replacements.
        Look at the figures for the strike ballot for teachers and midwives, its no wonder The Tories have set the thresholds at that level, they know the apathy out there.

  4. AndyH

    I personally think we need to promote individual stories – people are more swayed by individual cases than deliberately complicated statistics. Hopefully the UN report will be more damning – in the meantime – claimant stories (stories about professional criminal benefits was what was used by the government, time for the counter-attack! Stories such as this one:

  5. mrmarcpc

    All tories and their supporters should be hung, drawn and quartered, that is a deserving of cruel, heartless and greedy liars, cheaters and perverters of truth and justice!

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